Ex-MotoGP or new blood | Who is in the running for Ducati 2023 WorldSBK seat?

Ducati is yet to announce its partner to Alvaro Bautista in the 2023 WorldSBK Championship... could one of these hot tickets replace Michael Ruben Rinaldi?

Michael Ruben Rinaldi, Axel Bassani

The WorldSBK silly season might have taken its time to get properly kooky but as the (bafflingly long) six-week summer hiatus looms after this weekend’s sixth round in Most, just three of the ten factory seats for 2023 remain up for grabs.

Of these, two belong to Honda, though it appears increasingly likely it will retain rookie pairing Iker Lecuona and Xavi Vierge for another season.

This leaves Ducati with a potential - and very lucrative - vacancy in its factory Aruba.it line-up for 2023. As it stands, the Italian manufacturer will be led once more by Alvaro Bautista, the Spaniard having put Ducati on a course for a potential first WorldSBK title win in 11 years following the opening five rounds of the year.

Alongside him, Michael Ruben Rinaldi is the incumbent on the sister Ducati Panigale V4 R… but has the Italian done enough to convince Ducati to retain him and not sign a talented bevy of alternative options queuing up behind him?

Michael Ruben Rinaldi

Of all the factory riders on the grid, Michael Ruben Rinaldi remains the trickiest to evaluate.

Graduating to the factory Ducati squad for the 2021 WorldSBK season - somewhat controversially over stalwart Chaz Davies - Rinaldi’s first year in scarlet asked as many questions as it answered.

A terrific double win in Misano steadied early season nerves and he followed it up with a third in Catalunya, but elsewhere his results sheet was a scatter graph. 

Unfortunately for him, it has been much the same in 2022 with only a pair of podiums to his name, while his efforts have been brought into closer scrutiny by the runaway success of new team-mate Bautista.

With Ducati having invested in Rinaldi for several years prior to his arrival in the factory set-up, few would be surprised if it chose to remain committed to its rider. 

But that’s before you consider there are two ex-MotoGP riders and one talented up-and-comer knocking at its door too…

Danilo Petrucci

One of motorcycle racing’s good guys, the always energetic Danilo Petrucci has - somewhat bizarrely - carved something of a bigger reputation post-MotoGP than he had when he was winning races in the premier class.

Beginning the year with a headline-grabbing Dakar Rally effort, Petrucci went on to eschew the generic MotoGP to WorldSBK transition in favour of a move stateside in the MotoAmerica series aboard the factory backed Warhorse HSBK Ducati Panigale V4 R… and he’s certainly made an impression.

Three wins in a row from his debut set him on his way, with Petrucci now locked in a tight title battle with defending champion Jake Gagne on the all-conquering Yamaha.

While the trickle of talent from AMA/MotoAmerica has dried somewhat in recent years, Petrucci has spoken openly of a desire to return to international competition in WorldSBK.

Indeed, if anything Petrucci might find himself more at home in WorldSBK racing on familiar circuits, while his larger, heavier frame - which hampered his progress during the latter years of MotoGP - will be less of an issue in WorldSBK.

A wildcard outing is tipped before the end of the year, where Petrucci will no doubt have Rinaldi - and Bautista - firmly in his sights.

Andrea Dovizioso

While his split from Ducati in MotoGP wasn’t so much a tear but a severe bikini-wax of a rip, Andrea Dovizioso remains a respected figure within the walls of Borgo Panigale.

The experienced Italian - who masterminded Ducati’s push to the front in MotoGP when many others had failed before him - has already confirmed the 2022 MotoGP season he has spent trundling towards the back with RNF Yamaha will be his last.

However, he stopped short of announcing it as a retirement, raising speculation he could join Valentino Rossi by moving into four-wheel competition, or even take up his beloved Motocross more professionally.

Alternatively, he could be lured into a Superbike direction, though at this juncture it would seem more logical for Ducati to hire Petrucci over Dovizioso in a direct choice. Then again, if Petrucci does arrive from MotoAmerica, there would be no better replacement for HSBK than ‘Desmo Dovi’...

Axel Bassani

While he doesn’t have the profile to rival Petrucci or Dovizioso, there is a strong case to argue that Axel Bassani is the most deserving candidate for the Aruba.it Ducati.

A teenage prodigy in the Supersport class but otherwise little-known prior to his WorldSBK debut with Motocorsa Ducati in 2021, Bassani emerged as the year’s unexpected revelation with a form book that gathered momentum until he was challenging for podiums by the end of the season.

It’s form he has carried through into 2022, with Bassani - crucially - securing several notable scalps over Rinaldi during the opening rounds of the year.

At only 23-years old and Italian, he ticks a lot of boxes for Ducati bosses… and there is still clearly plenty more to come.